Whydah Gally was a British fully rigged galley ship that was originally built as a passenger, cargo, and slave ship. In the Golden Age of Piracy, the ship began a new role when it was captured by the pirate Captain Samuel “Black Sam” Bellamy and was refitted as his flagship.
Captain Samuel Bellamy was an English pirate who operated in the early 18th century. Though his known career as a pirate captain lasted little more than a year, he and his crew captured at least 53 ships, making him the wealthiest pirate in recorded history before his death at age 28.
As captain, his leadership was almost democratic; his crew was very fond of him, sometimes even referring to him as “Robin Hood of the Sea” and themselves as “Robin Hood’s Men”. Captain Bellamy was also a good tactician.
Usually, he had two ships under his control. His flagship was powerful with many cannons, and the second one was light but fast, which made a good balance. With coordinated attacks, they managed to capture ships easily without harming them too much.
Captain Bellamy lost his flagship, the Whydah Gally, when it ran into a mighty storm on April 26, 1717. He and 143 members of his crew died in the wreck. The ship was carrying a lot of gold and silver when she sank.
Nine of Bellamy’s crew survived the wrecking of the ship. They were all captured quickly and were tried in Boston for piracy and robbery. They were found guilty and were sentenced to death by hanging.
The last survivor was a 16-year-old John Julian, who was a skilled navigator and Whydah’s pilot. He was not tried, but instead was sold as a slave after his capture, and finally hanged 16 years later.
Bits and pieces of the pirates’ weapons, clothing, gear, gold, and other possessions have been plucked from the wreck. The abundance of metal buttons, cuff links, collar stays, rings, neck chains, and square belt buckles scattered on the sea floor shows that the pirates were far more sophisticated in their dress than was previously thought.
In an age of austere Puritanism and rigid class hierarchy, this too was an act of defiance, similar in spirit, perhaps, to today’s rock stars.
A museum exhibition called “Real Pirates: The Untold Story of The Whydah from Slave Ship ti Pirate Ship” toured the United States from 2007 to 2014.